One of my most vivid memories during my childhood is of my mother’s photograph albums. Most of them included images of my parents when they were dating or soon after their marriage—a treasure of great images of my parents when they were not occupied with me or my two brothers. I also remember the albums themselves. Black mounting corners held the photographs to stiff black paper. Some photos seemed to be missing, corners lost, pages cracked, and covers detached.
The sad condition of this priceless family material is repeated in many family collections. Unfortunately, it is also similar to the condition of numerous scrapbooks and albums that document our churches’ heritage. The purpose of this article is to provide some suggestions on how to preserve existing scrapbooks and how to compile a scrapbook that is archivally sound.
Scrapbooks are valuable sources for documenting the life of the church. Most scrapbooks include clippings, photographs, fliers, programs, newsletters, and other materials that document the activities and history of the congregation. The church archivist, historian, or church librarian needs to make every effort to preserve these valuable documentary sources.
Scrapbooks and photograph albums come in all shapes and sizes and often present storage problems. Your first task should be to locate all historical scrapbooks. They may be scattered throughout the church and even in the homes of some members.
Once this gathering task is completed, you will then need to evaluate each scrapbook for its preservation needs. Most department store scrapbooks are made from the poorest paper and require dangerous adhesives for attaching items. Glue, tape, staples, paper clips, and pressure-sensitive mounting corners of all varieties have been used to secure material in scrapbooks. Particularly poor are the scrapbooks in which items are mounted to a sticky surface and covered with a thin sheet of plastic. All of these methods have damaged or will damage the content material of the scrapbook and should never be used to compile a scrapbook.
Evaluate the condition of each scrapbook and the nature of the material mounted and the condition of the support material. If the scrapbook appears to be in good condition and no adhesives have been used (glue, tape, sticky mounting board, etc.), they may not need any preservation action. But most of your scrapbooks will need your attention.
Before you take any action to reformat the scrapbook material, consider the need to microfilm the scrapbooks in their original format. In many ways, microfilming is the most cost-effective and longest-lasting method of preserving the information found in the scrapbooks. Microfilming or photocopying onto acid-free paper of clipping-type scrapbooks is always a good idea. Photographic scrapbooks can be microfilmed, but special attention will still need to be given to the photographic images.
The Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives assists churches with microfilming needs. Some Baptist state historical collections also provide this service to churches in their area. If these services are not available or feasible, your local historical society, library, or university library may be able to suggest a source for microfilming services.
Some volumes in the scrapbook collection will need to be dissembled and placed in archival-quality folders or refilled into an archival quality scrapbook. Information on archival-quality scrapbooks is found later in this article. Items glued, taped, or applied with adhesives should be carefully removed. Double-sided scrapbooks present a multitude of problems, and the removal of items should be done cautiously. Photographs should be sleeved in archival quality plastic protectors. Try to maintain the original order of the scrapbook if possible. If removal of the items is too difficult and risky, take no action that would damage the content material.
When all the scrapbooks have been evaluated and preservation action completed, find a safe location for their storage. Arrange them in chronological order and store them in flat archival document boxes or flat storage containers. If they are small scrapbooks, they can be placed in acid-free file folders. If the scrapbook has been disassembled into a collection of folders, place them in a document box. Be sure the collection is stored in a safe area that is cooled during the summer months. Do not locate the collection near areas subject to water damage (windows, leaks, etc.) and areas prone to pest infestation.
Determine how the scrapbooks can be used to communicate the history of the church without endangering their existence. Some items may be used in displays and exhibits. Historical materials could be used in video presentations on the church’s heritage. The information in the scrapbooks can be used by researchers writing the history of the church or the local area.
One ongoing project for the church history committee can be to assemble a yearly scrapbook. The first step should be to assign the responsibility of gathering material for the scrapbook. The items could include clippings, programs, fliers, newsletters, articles, and photographs. The church secretary can maintain a file of material produced by the church. Other committee members can gather items for possible inclusion, such as obituaries, announcements of events, and sermon outlines.
A major task of this project is photography. Two individuals should share this responsibility. A good 35mm camera and film will be needed. Include both color and black and white prints if possible. The prints can be used in the scrapbook and the negatives filed in the church archives or church library. Be sure the negatives are sleeved in archival quality sleeves and properly identified with date and event.
Assembly of the scrapbook should come at the end of the year. Archival-quality scrapbooks are available from several vendors. Determine the best size for your needs. Remember that large scrapbooks are difficult to store. A letter-sized scrapbook (8 ½” x 11″) or slightly larger is my preference. These scrapbooks use acid-free paper and board and archival-quality polyester sheets. Clear plastic mounting corners will also be needed.
Gather all the material collected for the scrapbook during the year. Arrange the material in chronological order or perhaps grouped by church programs. Determine which items are best suited for the scrapbook, including printed items and photographs. Use the mounting corners to secure items to the pages. Never use glue, tape, or other adhesives on the material. Some items will be difficult to mount. The scrapbook you use should include a plastic sheet that will assist in securing most items. The pages can be filed in a three-ring binder. The binder can be purchased from the scrapbook supplier or an office supply store. Photographs may be filed in Mylar sheet protectors that will accommodate most photographs. Protective holders are made to hold 8-by-10 inch, 5-by-7-inch, and snapshot prints (4 to 8 per sheet). The sheets should be made to file in the scrapbook ringed binder. You may want to include hand-drawn or computer-generated dividers, title pages, and illustrations.
If the scrapbook is properly developed, it may be suitable for viewing and handling by the membership to celebrate the past year’s events and ministries. Even more important, it will be a source for documenting the life and history of the church for future generations.
Items for Archival Scrapbook
- Scrapbook album (ringed binder)
- Album pages (acid-free paper)
- Mylar sheet protectors
- Clear plastic mounting corners
- Archival quality photo sleeve protectors (punched for filing in ringed binder)
Vendors for Archival Scrapbooks
Call and request catalogs.
University Products, Inc.
517 Main St., P.O. Box 101
Holyoke, MA 01041-0101
439 Monroe Ave
P.O. Box 940
Rochester, NY 14603-0940
P.O. Box 4901
Syracuse, NY 13221-4901
Southern Baptist Historical Society (800-966-2278)
The Society handles many of the publications of the former Historical Commission. The Resource Kit for Your Church’s History is a valuable item. Request a catalog of material available from the Society.
Sumners, Bill. Documenting the Spirit: Manual and Guidelines,
This manual presents history committees with suggestions for documenting the life and history of the church. Available from the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives (615) 244-0344. Cost $7.
"Church Archives Preservation Starter Kit."
Available from the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, Tennessee. The starter kit provides a sampling of a variety of preservation materials including boxes, folders, photograph protector sleeves, and other material.